With some I get a puzzled and worried look and others an immediate smile and nod of recognition. The question from the former is “Why are you doing this?” That answer will likely come a piece at a time during the pilgrimage and show up in my blog. I have been allowed a little peek into the catalyst behind this “Rome to Rumi” pilgrimage, however.
My pilgrimage destination is Konya, Turkey, the site of the poet, Rumi, and his Tomb. Rumi is a 13th century Sufi, the mystical arm of Islam. Last week I was reading one of his poems and a singular line caught my attention. He was quoting what appeared to be a common Middle Eastern proverb. In his poem Soul Houses he writes, “Eat the grapes. Do not keep talking about the garden. Eat the grapes.” I knew immediately that this proverb mirrored a shift in my spiritual intentions of recent years.
Thirty years ago I began studies in the department of religion at the College of Idaho. I followed that a Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary, part of the Graduate Theological Union, a network of seminaries that cooperate to provide a more ecumenical and broader theological education for their students. Most degrees have room for electives and at SFTS I found that whenever I could choose my own classes I nearly always chose more classes in theology.
“Theology” most simply just means the study of God. In the course of my seminary education I studied the Reformed theology of my Presbyterian tradition, of course. I also buttressed that with Latin American liberation theology, Jewish theology following the Holocaust, “death of God” theology that emerged in the 60’s in America, feminist theology, and the thought and philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
If I could have I would have taken nearly all of my classes in theology. I couldn’t get enough of thinking about and talking about God. I wanted a theology that was consistent with the Biblical witness, honored the reality of history, and was contemporary in scope. This set me on a path of a lifetime of wrestling with the question of God. My sermons were often attempts to understand, define and narrow the character of God down to something we could relate to.
I am not sure exactly when it happened, but as I recall it was about the same time that I began doing hospice work as a bereavement coordinator. In the course of my work I sat with families who were watching loved ones die. I handled the grief of dozens of people who had lost a family to suicide. I met with the survivors of fatal crashes and murders. It was wonderful, sobering work.
I had not heard until last week, the proverb, “Eat the grapes. Do not keep talking about the garden. Eat the grapes.” But, I have a feeling the spiritual wisdom of that proverb began working on me over a decade ago. Somewhere in there I simply grew tired of talking about God. At the risk of sounding arrogant I discovered that I wanted to spend my energy being God or channeling God’s presence. When sitting with a suicide survivor it just didn’t seem enough to assure the person of God’s presence. It was really important to me that the person felt God’s presence. I wanted to make sure that the person experienced God right there in that counseling room.
“Eat the grapes,” Rumi writes. I think he is saying that it isn’t enough to just understand life, define life or even to find the meaning of life. It is better to taste life, to feel joy, and even to savor the grief of loss. “Eat the grapes” and drink wine of life and love. Less talking. More living.